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Hydrogenation of Food
The application of chemistry has helped change the food industry. Today, Hydrogenation, for instance, plays a crucial role in that field. Its applications in the food industry have what helped fast food restaurant business expand on a big scale as it helps in making the food fast and in a consistent manner (Health Effects Of Trans-Fatty Acids 9). It has also allowed baked food producers to replace organic butter with hydrogenated oils which enabled them to enhance their products by giving an appropriate texture to their final products. However, the consumption of hydrogenated food has been found to cause health implications due to the change in its organic compounds (Hydrogenated Oils Adverse Effects On Health 23).
The term Hydrogenation derives from hydrogen as the chemical reaction revolves around it. The chemical reaction involves molecular hydrogen (H2) and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as nickel, palladium or platinum. In the food industry, Hydrogenation process is applied on liquid oils in which it converts the oil into solid or semi-solid fats. Changing the degree of saturation of the fat changes some important physical properties, such as the melting range which is why liquid oils become solid or semi-solid (Chaloner & Penny 32).
By adding hydrogen atoms, the oils are converted into solid fats with an extended shelf-life so that they can be readily used in commercially baked products and fast foods. Fast food restaurants, for instance, rely on hydrogenated oil to enhance the texture of their food and prepare the food faster (Karamé & Iyad 9). Baked food producers, on the other hand, use hydrogenated oil as a replacement for animal fat to saturate their products as it is a cheaper substitute and it extends the shelf-life of their products (Hydrogenated Oils Adverse Effects On Health 19).
However, partially hydrogenated oils –also known as trans-fatty acids or TFA- do not have the same organic features as naturally saturated or unsaturated fats, and thus, makes them detrimental to the human health. Although according to the European Food Information Council that trans-fatty acids are not directly linked to diseases such as cancer, a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found evidence that the consumption of FTAs is related to risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), due to the chemical change in the organic compound (Chaloner & Penny 22). An alternative to trans-fats would be simply to return to using saturated fat from animals such as butter rather than consuming synthetic FTAs; and as the saying goes: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” (Karamé & Iyad 9).
One may wonder why companies hydrogenate their fats but a variety of reasons stream in depending on their ultimate target. Take a scenario where the foods have to be preserved for a longer period; partially-hydrogenated oil has to be used I their cooking to keep them longer. This is because the rate of spoiling for hydrogenated oils is very low. Other companies need to ensure the right temperature is reached when making oil, and thus, they have to include hydrogenation (Karamé & Iyad 10).
On the other hand, when making margarine, the fats have to be hydrogenated to ensure they keep in the solid state all the time. Apparently, this happens with the knowledge that trans-fats are harmful to our health. They are harmful in such a way that they raise the level of cholesterol in the body hence leading to the hardening of the arteries (Hydrogenated Oils Adverse Effects On Health 13). The consequence of this hardening is the inhibition of a type of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase which is apparently responsible for the dilation of the arteries in the regulation of the flow of blood. The entire cardiovascular system is thus glued resulting to ultimate high blood pressure that may apparently result in death if not catered for in time (Health Effects Of Trans-Fatty Acids 10).
Another importance of hydrogenation is to ensure that different states of fats or liquids are achieved at normal temperatures. This is a process that ensures trans-bond orientations are created to achieve various states such as; solid, semi-solid or even a state which is more stable. Instead of being all curly, the strings of the lipids are all lined up (Health Effects Of Trans-Fatty Acids 17). Hydrogenation has thus been found to serve a purpose rather than the improvement of nutritional value or quality. This is because hydrogenated oils and fats are just used to add lifespan to foodstuff other than improving its value. It was also found that the consumption of hydrogenated fats increases the chances of acquiring heart diseases hence a major drawback to the hydrogenation process (Karamé & Iyad 12).
However, research has shown that hydrogenation does not always end up in the production of trans-fats. Multiple bonds exist in most of the oils and fats, and when partial hydrogenation is done on them, some of the bonds are eliminated. On the other hand, total hydrogenation ensures that all extra multiple bonds are removed and replaced with hydrogen (Chaloner & Penny 12). The imperfection in the hydrogenation reactions is the one that leads to the formation of trans-fats. The imperfect reaction will once in a while lead to the removal of already-attached hydrogen in the fat, and a new double bond is formed instead of the reverse, we could call it a ‘backwards driving.’ The sad part is thus that there will always be some traces of trans-fats in partial hydrogenation (Hydrogenated Oils Adverse Effects On Health 18).
Dietitians believe that the texture of food is improved when cooked with hydrogenated fats. A good example is given by tub margarine products from hydrogenated vegetable oils tend to be creamier and smoother when spreading in comparison to butter or stick margarine. On the other hand, commercial pie crusts tend to have the desirable flaky texture as a result of using hydrogenated oils in their cooking. This is to mean that commercial foodstuff has become more palatable and hence more sales as a result of improvement in their texture (Chaloner & Penny 18).
It is thus true to say that even though scientists find it unwise to consume hydrogenated oils because health issues of customers and family members will deteriorate, commercial food companies cannot resist the use of the hydrogenated oils (Karamé & Iyad 7). Business has boomed as the appearance of the foodstuff has improved tremendously, and the issue of food wastage has been eliminated since the shelf-life of the food has been increased. Hydrogenated oils have been proved to preserve foodstuff for as long as many years. A good example is the lifespan of peanut butter (Health Effects Of Trans-Fatty Acids 24).
However, dietitians argue that hydrogenated oils and fats are not as bad as they are portrayed to heart diseases. If the right quantities are consumed, cholesterol lipids stored in the body play a very crucial role in the body (Chaloner & Penny 13). The energy for the muscles and other metabolic processes come from these stored hydrogenated lipids in the body (Karamé & Iyad 13). This is particularly important for people who do hard exercises or jobs. Also, the accumulation of these hydrogenated fats in the body help in the insulation of the body against cold as well as shock absorbers hence protecting vital organs such as the kidneys from injuries (Health Effects Of Trans-Fatty Acids 14).
However tainted hydrogenation may be, there are uncovered advantages to the use of these oils and fats apart from commercial purposes. The cells of our bodies are made from lipids such as linolenic-acids. Hormonal production is also dependent on these oils and fats that get hydrogenated to some extent. Hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are all made from the stored cholesterol and lipids (Hydrogenated Oils Adverse Effects On Health 11).
Hydrogenation is thus very crucial in the commercial production and making of foodstuff as the hydrogenated oils and fats improve the making of the foodstuffs and their shelf-life. In regulated amounts, consumed hydrogenated oils and fats usually form cholesterol lipids that are important to our bodies. However, dietitians argue that excessive consumption of the hydrogenated fats and oils could lead to heart-related diseases. It was thus determined that hydrogenation is more of purpose that improvement of the quality of food (Chaloner & Penny 33).
Chaloner, Penny A. Homogeneous Hydrogenation. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994. Print.
“Hydrogenated Oils Adverse Effects On Health.” European Food Information Council. N.p., (2016). Web.
“Health Effects Of Trans-Fatty Acids: Experimental And Observational Evidence.” Nature Publishing Group. N.p., (2009). Web.
Karamé, Iyad. Hydrogenation. Rijeka: InTech, 2012. Print.